Friday, May 16, 2008

Why I Am Catholic

There are two vivid memories I have in regards to my Catholic upbringing and a third one once I had abandoned Christ’s Church.

The third memory is of a time when I had visited a friend’s family and they were all sitting around in a room discussing various things. I was probably around 23 years old. Two of the family members got into a discussion about religion and it centered on the lack of intelligence one has to have in order to believe in things like the virgin birth of Christ and the Resurrection. One of the men stated how he did not understand how anyone with any scientific knowledge at all could believe any of it. I do not know what made him turn to me as I was just quietly listening, but he asked me if I believed these things. I said that I did. He asked me why. I replied that the Church taught me these things. It was really the only thing that came to my mind. He did not press me any further, but I could tell I must have been one of those whose intelligence was lacking. On the way back to our apartment, I told my friend that I did not know why I had told his family that I believed those things, because I really did not. I have never spoken to my friend about that conversation since, but it was the first time I had publicly denied my faith.

The second memory is of my Confirmation and preparation. I was in eighth grade and around 13 years old. I distinctly remember being lined up with my fellow confirmandi in our white robes with our Holy Spirit dove pins waiting to process in. I also remember earlier that year, during our preparation, a priest warning us how most people leave the Church in their teenage years. Ok, it does not take a genius to notice a trend, but in my case it was prophecy. Almost as soon as I received Confirmation, I stopped attending Mass. You see, I was an ‘adult’ now and could choose what I wanted for myself.

The first memory is when I was about 9 years old and was overwhelmed with the reality of the omniscience of God.1 I had walked into the kitchen to get some cereal or something (so much for vivid) and I decided to step over to the other cabinets instead of the one I had originally been going towards. You see, I had decided I was going to trick God. He thought I was coming in to open the original cabinet and get the cereal. Then I realized that of course God would have known I was going to change my mind, so I changed my path again. This led me to realize that God knew that I was going to do that also. This went on for about thirty seconds or so (I am a little slow), until God’s infinite knowledge of me was made abundantly clear. He had known I was going to do all of this before these little thoughts had even popped in my head. So I went and got the cereal and ate it. It only occurs to me now that my original thought of what God thought I was going to do (open the original cabinet and get the cereal) is what I ended up doing.

As you might have already figured out, I was baptized as an infant (1972) in the Latin (or Roman) rite of the Catholic Church. Growing up I do not think I even knew that other Christians existed. I knew there were other religions, but I thought if you were a Christian you were a Catholic. Even as a child God was always personal to me; I was interested in him and he was interested in me. As I had been brought up to know, he was so interested in me that he sent his Son to die for me. I do not think I ever fully grasped what that meant to me back then (and I really do not think I have done much more than begin to understand it now), but I knew that it meant he at least was interested.

I probably had a typical American Catholic 1970’s religious education, which is to say not much at all.2 Both my parents were Catholic and we attended Mass every Sunday (as far as I can recall.) As is typical, I received my first Holy Communion in second grade. I remember singing in the choir around that time. Well, maybe I just remember going to choir practice. Over the next few years I do not really remember much in the way of Church life except the aforementioned Mass every Sunday and going to Confession whenever my mother went. I guess she figured if she needed to go my brother and I probably did too. As I got older (6th and 7th grade) I began to fall into serious sin and my childhood beliefs started to gradually fade away into the background. Things of God just did not interest me anymore. I did not bother to learn anything else; because by the time I was 10 years old I already knew everything about everything. During 8th grade I became acquainted with a particularly not nice bully and spent a year dealing with stuff I would not wish on anyone. That same year, while I was wondering why I deserved this and feeling sorry for myself, I received Confirmation (the laying on of hands and full reception of the gifts and life of the Holy Spirit) and made a decision which I now regret more than any other. I left Christ’s Church. I did not blame God for my bully situation; he seemed so distant that it did not even cross my mind. It was not with any fanfare or belligerence, but with a great apathy towards God and his Church.

I became more and more introverted over the next few years and God seemed farther and farther away. My sins were not what I consider the typical outward sins of a teenager, but were all based on my great lack of love for my fellow human beings. (You know those whom I seem to recall God said it was important to love.3 ) I am sure you have seen the t-shirt or bumper sticker that says, “Mean people suck”, well my philosophy at this time was just, “People suck” and I reveled in it. That is what happens when we consciously choose to turn from God. He allows us to drink deep of our own passions as we harden our hearts towards him.

That, as in all that God does, is a grace. He knew what I needed and he knew where I needed to be taken before I would surrender myself to him. Back then though this philosophy began to eat away at me. I began to wonder if life would continue after death, whether God even existed, and what the point of all this pointlessness was. I had become the master of my introverted self, only to find that as master, I was really a slave.

It was then, in this place of weakness, that I was offered a job. It does not sound like a life altering event, I know, but God sometimes speaks to us in a still small voice.4 The job was located in Jupiter, Florida and there is absolutely no reason I should have taken that job or (as far as I know) that the man who offered it to me should have offered it. Through God’s Providence though it was offered and taken. Off to Jupiter I moved and met a group of people who God had specially designed to deal with Todd. Here I came face to face with something that I had not even heard of; ‘non-denominational’ Protestantism. They were theologically Baptists in disguise, but I did not know any different back then and they probably would be offended at that description.

The man who had given me the job and his wife5 had allowed me to live with them for a couple months that summer (1996) until I found a place of my own and at Christmas they gave me a bible. I already had a New Testament that I think I had received at my First Communion and I had read out of it here and there throughout my life, but that was about the extent of it. I kind of rolled my eyes internally as I opened this present up, another in a long line of ‘gentle’ promptings by them. They were always inviting me to come to Sunday service or to the meals they had on Wednesday evenings (which just so happened to be followed by youth group.)6 I always declined or ignored the invitation, because I did not see what was so special about where they went to church. I still considered myself a Catholic even though by this time I no longer had any idea of what that truly meant, not to mention I probably had not been to Mass in at least ten years.

In the mean time I had become friends with many of the people that were in the youth group and most of them were truly trying to live out God’s calling in their lives. None of the kids that I hung around with before had this transparent yearning to follow God’s will. These kids (high school and early college age) were striving to live holy lives and really, when it comes right down to it, you just can not beat holiness as a witness to Christ. You see it and you want it and man did I want it.

After receiving this bible I decided to read it completely through and surprisingly enough I did over the next few months. I cannot begin to express the profound effect this had on my beliefs and my life. Even though I had been brought up to believe the bible was God’s Word, it was just another of those things that I had decided did not really matter. Fully realizing that this is the very Word of God and seeing people try to live holy lives were God’s one-two combination and no other punches were needed. God had restored my faith in him, but I still thought I knew everything about everything…

Eventually I became involved in the previously mentioned youth group at the local ‘non-denom’, even though I was technically too old to be in it. I also started to attend a small group led by a woman who was involved with Youth For Christ (an evangelical parachurch organization). Sometime in 1997 I went on a trip with the YFC group. While on this trip one of the leaders took me aside and asked me why I did not attend the church services (He also attended the local ‘non-denom’). I presented him with an impeccably logical argument that stated, among other things, that I could worship God apart from any man-made organization and therefore I felt that I did not need it. He listened politely and told me something that looking back continued to sit in the back of my mind and probably was the catalyst in what I was searching for in regards to who God’s Church really was. He pointed out to me that Jesus had commissioned his disciples to evangelize the world.7 He then showed me that the Apostles did just that. They went throughout the world preaching the Gospel and starting churches everywhere they went.8 Slowly I realized that the Church was not a man-made organization. In fact, Jesus had built it himself.9 It seems pretty obvious now, but remember I still thought I knew everything about everything. I decided to give this Church thing another go around based in no small part on that ten minute conversation. That was when I started attending the local ‘non-denom’ services and really decided to participate fully in what God had in store for me.

I attended some Christian concerts and events where people would preach or talk about some topic of interest and these invariably ended with an ‘altar call’. An altar call is basically an invitation to ‘accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.’10 During this invitation they might say a few things about knowing Jesus personally and talk a little bit about what Jesus has done for you on the cross. They then will invite you to say a ‘sinner’s prayer’, which they generally proceed to give you an example of in order, I guess, to help you along in the process. You are then usually invited to come forward to show your profession of faith in Jesus and they might have someone pray with you when you come up front. I do not know why, other then I just did not like getting up in front of people, that I never participated in coming forward at one of these events. Thinking back on these presentations and invitations, they are very emotionally charged and the pressure to come forward is very great. You sometimes would see the same people go forward at multiple events trying, very sincerely, to turn their lives over to the Lord. You always saw a large number of people come forward and that always would draw a large round of applause or Hallelujah’s, depending on the dynamics of the group. My conversion took place over a few months and there was not a specific day that I went through each of the “things you must do to be saved”, but during this time God worked his way back into my life to where I finally realized that my life needed to be about him and about his will for me.

During this time one of the girl’s in the youth group (also technically too old to be in it) and I began “dating”. I put it in quotes, because I waited until a week before Beth was going to move away to attend a different college to let her know my feelings. So while she lived three and a half hours to the north we “dated” for all of five weeks before I asked her to marry me (9/16/97). I moved up in January (1998) about ten minutes away from where she lived. Three hours and twenty minutes make all the difference.

We were both attending the local community college and to our surprise a New Testament class was being offered and we decided to take it. I can not do the moment justice, but we are sitting in our desks on the first day of class and in walks a man dressed all in black with a white collar on. A priest! I had not seen one of those live and in person in over ten years. We quickly found out that he was not Catholic, but an Episcopal (U.S. wing of the Anglican church - which is the Church of England) priest. This man loved Jesus and it came through in everything he did. In his class I learned all sorts of things that I had never heard of; the background of the New Testament, how it came into being, the political circumstances that Israel found herself in around Christ’s birth, what language(s) were spoken by Christ and his followers, and many, many others.

Beth and I quickly befriended him and decided to attend the Episcopal services. The first time we attended it all came flooding back. Something I did not even know that I had been longing for. The liturgy was very similar to a Catholic Mass and I drank it all in. This was someplace where people actually kneeled. There were periods of silence for reflective prayer. There were communal responses. I had not realized that I had missed any of this. Then the bread and the wine were brought forward and he spoke Christ’s words over them. “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” Communion! I had totally forgotten about Communion. The ‘non-denom’ only had Communion once a quarter and that was at the Sunday night service and I was totally unaware that they even did that until years later. It certainly was not something that was stressed in any way as something important. Here Communion was the center of the liturgy, not his homily (sermon) which is what seemed to be the center at the ‘non-denom’. The few months we were living here were also stored away in my mind as God led me where I did not know I was heading.

Eventually we decided to move up our wedding date and asked the Episcopal priest if he would preside at our wedding. He was excited for us and was happy to do so. We were married (5/9/98) and decided to move back to the Jupiter area. All of our friends and Beth’s family attended the ‘non-denom’ and that was where we were still comfortable so we returned to it again. This was a weird time for me; I started to notice that all the people around me did not actually believe the same things, even though they went to the same church. There was a small faction of people who others called Calvinists and a few of the Calvinists were on staff. I started to hear about different things that the Calvinists found inconsistent with what the non-Calvinist pastor put forward as truth. Eventually some of the Calvinists started to leave. I noticed some of my beliefs fell along the lines of the Calvinists (though not all of them did) and started to wonder about what I really believed about certain topics. The youth pastor was a Calvinist and he really pushed everyone to think about what it is that we believed. I started to learn a little about John Calvin and Martin Luther; what their beliefs were and the reasons they put forth for doing what they ended up doing. People always seemed to hold them up as these wonderful men who had saved Christianity, but as I read more about them the picture was not so rosy. It did not affect my beliefs about God too much, because these guys were just men and it was not their fault if people were holding them up as ‘heroes of the Faith’. What it did do was make me realize that maybe not everything I was being told was on the up and up. Maybe I needed to guard my intake of information by being as wise as a serpent.11 Everyone was always telling me to compare everything with Scripture. They kept telling me that it was the only sure way that we can know God. So I did. It seemed to make sense; as I was told the Bereans did it after all.12

I did not delve too deeply though, because, as you might recall, even though I was learning new things all the time, I already knew everything. A year later we moved to the Atlanta area (5/99). We still did not know too much about all these different Protestant denominations. Non-denominational is called that for a reason. We decided to ‘shop' around for a church to call our home. After attending several Protestant denominations and ‘non-denominations’ in the area, and finding none that we could agree on or like, we settled into a sort of apathetic, non-church going life. The honeymoon with attending church seemed to be already over and the shine had worn off. Now that we were away from our friends and the safety and comfort of that community I fell back to my default position that it did not really matter if or where I went to church. God would understand. As I had been told, God gave us all these denominations so that each person would have a place to be comfortable and so that it would be easier for God to reach them. If God wanted to reach me through a church he would find a place for me. Little did I know the place he had in store.

That was the way it stayed for about a year, until a cousin of mine invited us to a non-denominational church that he had attended the week before. He had attended the very first service of this new church and now we were going to attend the second one. The people gathered in an elementary school for the service and we liked it. The pastor was personable, the music was well done, and they even had weekly communion, even if it came in little to-go containers.13 Since deep down we knew we should be going to church, we decided to start going here. Not to mention we would be supporting my cousin in his new found faith.

This went on for a couple of months and Beth got involved with the middle school group and we started to get acquainted with some of the people there. Then, my cousin started coming to us with questions about Christ's divinity. He was reading all these verses in the bible that seemed to indicate that Jesus was not God. He was very confused and wanted an explanation. After a few conversations on this topic I noticed that he had stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to the orthodox belief that Christ was God and felt that it seemed clearer that it was not so. We had a discussion one night about all this in great detail and it seemed to get bogged down in the meanings of words or how different translations worded different phrases. A couple of days later I had the bright idea to start over and try to use a small group of Scripture verses that we could both agree on. I sent him a quick e-mail with those Scripture verses and framed my argument around them. I asked him to consider this with an open mind and to ask God to reveal the truth to him. I then quoted 1 John 3:2214 to him and sent it on its way, fully confident of his conversion to what I had showed him was plain in Scripture. I think it suffices to say that I might have been a tad over confident in my argument.

My cousin not only did not see what I thought was so plain, he proceeded to send me a lengthy e-mail of, I assume, every verse he thought proved his point of view. I was a bit taken aback by the sheer number of verses he had compiled, but it meant he had clearly thought this through more than I had so I set about responding to it. If there was one thing that was burned into me from my youth in the Catholic Church, it was there was one God in three persons.15 This was nothing short of the most important thing in Christianity - who God is. If we do not get this right, then all else falls apart - our worship becomes idol worship. If Christ is not God, then he is a creature and no creature, no matter what he has done, is to be worshiped. So I went about using my Scripture against his Scripture to prove what I could so readily see, because of what had been passed on to me in my youth. Considering what I knew at the time, I think I did a pretty good job. Of course after my first failure with him I had scoured the internet to see if there were answers to ones that I really had no answer for. Interestingly, a lot of these were Catholic responses and it was another thing that I later found tucked away into my brain.

Fourteen pages of response later I sent it off to him. It did not change his mind one little bit. I was absolutely stunned that he could be so blind. His response was basically that I was just reading into the verses what I wanted to see. It was the first time in my life when I witnessed the failings of a 'sola Scriptura'16 theology firsthand. What more could I bring him then the very Word of God? When he denied that my interpretations were authoritative in his life, what could I say? It was not as if his interpretations were ridiculous. They were incorrect, but on the surface they seemed to make sense. Granted, neither of us were theologians, but if two people who had read all these verses, were semi-intelligent, were genuinely searching for the Truth, had prayed about this, and desired to serve God could be at such odds over the bedrock of Christianity (who Christ is) by following ‘sola Scriptura’ I might have to rethink that as a part of my belief system.17

This same cousin was working with the high school youth group at the time and my wife became concerned18 that he might be telling the kids that Jesus was not God. So she met with the pastor on Wednesday night that week and shared her concerns with him.19 She was about to find out that the pastor was not so sure himself if Jesus was God. He agreed that my cousin should not be teaching the kids that Jesus was not God,20 however the pastor told her that there was no way we could know if Jesus is God or not, because Scripture is not clear on this point. He said, it seems like at some points he is very human and it seems like in others he is more, but since Scripture is not clear we are not held to a belief that he is God. You can believe he is God if you want, but you do not need to believe it to be a Christian.21 When Beth came home and told me he said these things, I was just flabbergasted. In fact, I was so shocked that I told her she must have confused him with the way she discussed the topic. (Remember a person that already knows everything, like me, would be able to discuss the topic properly…) So a few days later I sat down with him and I found out how wrong I was. Here is a man who calls himself the pastor of a group of Christians. He went to a Christian seminary and what he came away with was that Jesus might not be God. I could not comprehend that type of failure. How could he even call his church a Christian church? What the heck could that possibly mean now? Take away Christ's divinity and you take away our salvation.

Providentially, Beth and I were just about to leave on vacation to Jupiter, Florida, and on the way down we stopped and talked to the Episcopal priest who had married us about what was going on. He told us that we needed to get the heck out of there and hopefully this guy was just a knucklehead. Once we arrived in Jupiter we also spoke to Beth’s old youth pastor. He suggested we look at the PCA church22 , because at least we would know the denomination’s teachings before we even got involved.

After we returned we let our pastor know that we could no longer attend his church. I told him the reason why and he said that he wanted to speak to us after service that Sunday. I told my cousin about the meeting and he said he wanted to be there, so I said sure. So Beth and I pulled up after service was over and met with him explaining our reasons once again. We told him that who God is, is non-negotiable to us. It is not something that we can work around or discuss to come up with some kind of compromise that makes everyone happy. After a few minutes he said that he did not think that this was the real reason we were leaving. He said that Jesus being God or not was not a doctrinal issue that someone should leave a church over. Clearly he believed very strongly in his belief that you do not have to believe that Jesus is God to be a Christian. At least my cousin realized the ramifications of taking one side or the other. If I was wrong I was committing idolatry. If my cousin was wrong, he was denying his Creator the worship God is due. This apathy of the pastor I could not deal with and so I left our conversation at that. As the conversation came to an end he proceeded to tell us that whatever we were really leaving for, he was sure God was calling us someplace else. Looking back I can say with certainty that he got that correct.

All along this journey, God had been laying little seeds here and there through many different people and situations. By this time I was really starting to question my beliefs (or what I had come to accept blindly) about the nature of Christ’s Church. Beth and I found a PCA church (Summer 2001) and started attending. We liked it immediately. We liked the pastor, the sermons, the people…everything. We became heavily involved with the youth group and joined a small faith group. There were many internal issues in this particular church that had led to it being pretty small, but Beth and I loved its size and we came to know most of the people there very well.

I started reading more and more, trying to understand the things that I was learning. One of the things that came out of my Scripture studies was Jesus’ desire for the unity of his people, his Church.23 Jesus prays for Christians to be one as he and the Father are one. Our unity is supposed to be like the unity of the Trinity. Not a unity of minimalist standards it seems. The reason Jesus gives us for our unity is so that the world may believe that Jesus was sent by the Father. In other words, our disunity is a direct witness against Christ. Not small potatoes in the scheme of things. I had also started reading a lot of Catholic apologetics24 and it was making a lot of sense. Beth and I had never officially become members of the PCA church and our pastor asked us one day why that was. I told him that I just did not want to join a church25 and he asked if he could stop by our apartment later that week to discuss the PCA church with us. When he came over I only really had one question to ask him. What was the PCA’s position on reconciliation between churches? Were they trying to heal the rifts between them and other denominations? Were they even trying to reconcile with the other Presbyterian churches that they themselves had split from? (OK, maybe three questions...) After basically saying that they talked with the other churches, but they were not trying to reconcile with them I had received my answer and he had received his.

I had been immersed in Protestantism now for about five years, as it is now 2002. I started to sporadically attend Mass with my mother and a sense of the holy during the worship of God returned to me from my childhood. All those little seeds that had been planted along the way were starting to sprout up. The question of authority and who God’s Church was became more and more the center of my inquiry. How exactly can the four Protestant denominations (2 - Non-denominational / 1 - Episcopal / 1 - Presbyterian) that I had attended for any length of time all claim to teach only what the bible taught (which they all did) and all teach different things (which they all did)? They all claimed to teach God’s Truth from God’s Word. How could this possibly be? One of the arguments I saw put forth was that the Protestant denominations agreed on the essentials and the things they disagreed about were inconsequential. Besides the fact that the question of who gets to decide what the essentials are is totally ignored, the statement is shown by the facts to be not true. However, say I granted that it was true, why are they separated? If the things that separate them are so inconsequential why have they abandoned the unity that Jesus himself so clearly desires?26 The truth of the matter is that most of the issues that separate them are important. So I was back to my original question. How can they all claim to teach God’s Truth only from God’s Word when the things that they taught were sometimes radically different?

Some other questions were really bothering me: I had recently discovered that the Catholic bible had more books in it than the Protestant one. How could I claim that the ‘extra’ books found in the Catholic Bible are not supposed to be there? Who had that authority? How could I objectively know if my pastor had God’s authority to lead my local church? Was it really God’s plan to give us Scripture and for us each to individually come away with the proper interpretation? Question after unanswerable (for me) question assailed the Protestant house that I had built. I will not go into all of them or this would go on another seven pages, but something very simple finally occurred to me. Remember, I am slow. God did not make me the final arbiter of truth. This was a really big part of ‘the everything’ that I thought I already knew everything about. It simply did not matter if I thought denomination ‘X’ was more in line with Scripture than denomination ‘Y’. My submission to God's Church is not based on something as faulty as my personal interpretation of Scripture. God did not create us to decide who has these sometimes extremely high level theological concepts right. He made us to submit to him and to those he had given his authority to. Period. Denomination ‘X’ and denomination ‘Y’ may contain a good deal of the Truth. They may even love God with everything in their being and strive to serve him the best they can. However, as long as they are apart from God's promise and authority they are only human institutions. I longed for Christ’s Church which he had instituted and promised to protect himself.

Jesus calls us sheep for a reason. We are easily led astray and left to our own devices, there is no limit to the kind of trouble we can get into. Because of this, our Lord did not leave us in this world on our own without his light. He has placed his light in a city on a hill and it has been shining for almost 2000 years and he is calling all of us there. The fullness of what he wants to give us is only available in his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and what he wants to give us is himself. In him is all we need in all eternity.

God loves us. Jesus is very clear as he sends forth his disciples to evangelize the world that he will be with his Church until the end of time.27 His Church is his Body.28 His authority was given to his disciples who then passed it on to other men.29 Scripture is also clear about what we are to do to those in authority. We are to submit.30 The Gospel is not a contradiction. God does not reveal himself falsely. I now had a decision to make. Do I reject God; do I reject Scripture; or do I reject these man-made churches? You can see that I really only had one choice available to me.

So the question became how can I know God’s Church? Most churches will readily admit they are man-made institutions and would not even think of claiming divine origins. If they do not even claim to be Christ’s Church why should I even bother with them at all? They admit to their human (only) origins and Scripture plainly tells me that Christ founded his Church. Out of the churches that do make the claim, there are really only two that can historically be taken seriously.31 Although they are both very similar in their beliefs, only one claims to have the successor of Peter as its earthly head, the Catholic Church. I had begun to realize that Christ did found a visible Church and that he built it upon Peter.32 I finally came to the realization that to continue apart from the Church was to be apart from God's will. The PCA church we were in dissolved because of financial problems. God had taken away all my impediments (i.e. all my excuses) and all that was left was to rely on him totally. And so I returned home (Summer of 2002). I received the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and through Christ's priest received forgiveness of my sins.33

That is how it happened and it was not easy at times. Now that I know that I do not know everything about everything, it seems I have freedom for the first time. Freedom to learn about God through his divinely appointed Church, freedom to put stock in the writings of the first Christians who followed the Apostles, and the freedom to realize that I do not need to figure everything out on my own down to the last detail, because I can actually trust those whom God sent before me. That is something that for whatever reason, many people do not consider freedom. Real freedom does not mean you are free to do anything, but free to choose God’s will. It is my hope that non-Catholics will apply that understanding of real freedom to God’s Church, especially in regards to how they think about what was done by the Luther, Calvin, and the other Protestant reformers.

During all this, I was not bright enough to talk to my wife about my struggles as they were happening and my returning to the Church was a bit of a surprise for her. Not to mention she was not exactly thrilled that I had decided to become one of those crazy Catholics. We both struggled for a while living in a marriage where we believed different things, but I have also experienced the wonderful blessings of answered prayer and the grace that comes from watching my wife come to join me in Christ’s Church (Easter Vigil 2004). We had some hard times to go through, but God has blessed us all the more through them. Now once again we share a common faith in our Lord. We continue to try to live our lives, by God’s wondrous superabundant grace, to bring Christ to all we meet, by word and action.

Looking back I wonder sometimes why God put up with me for so long or still does for that matter. I had nothing to offer; in fact I had abandoned him. That is what is so wonderful about God’s grace. It is his free and undeserved gift to us. God is faithful, even when we are not.34 In my baptism I entered into a covenant with God. My parents and Godparents presented me to the Lord and made promises on my behalf. God accepted those promises and established in me what Adam, through his sin, had separated from in himself and all who would follow him35 ; the supernatural life (sanctifying grace) of God. When I became older and had abandoned my faith instead of taking on those promises as my own, God did not abandon me. He remained faithful to the covenant he and I had entered into some 35 years ago. His love that was poured into me at my baptism is a superabundant love. It is meant to be given away freely and sacrificially. Even, as Christ has shown us, if it means death on a cross. I fail in this at every turn, but still God has remained faithful and that is why I am Catholic.

Feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle
August 27, 2007

To all those who allowed the Lord to work through them so that I would re-embrace my faith in God, go my heartfelt thanks. To all those who allowed the Lord to work through them so that I would return home to Christ’s Church, you have my undying gratitude. I know those in the first group might not have always been in the second group, but it is my sincere hope that those who are only in the first group will see that the two groups should not be mutually exclusive. Special thanks to my mother for her faithfulness. She was the only one in my immediate family and those of my extended family that I was around (my father’s side of the family) to continue to love Christ’s Church. As of this writing there are five more of us that have returned (including my cousin who was mentioned earlier) or entered and I am sure in no small part to her prayers and faithfulness. To all of you who spent any time in prayer on my behalf my eternal (literally) appreciation is yours. Never doubt that prayer works, because God is always working good for those who love him.36 To anyone who struggles with sharing your faith by speaking to others about God, first be holy.37 Your holiness is more of a witness to Christ than anything you can say. I know it was for me.

“People try to make the Catholic message sound complex, but it's really simple: ‘Repent, believe and be baptized; then if you commit mortal sin, repent, believe, and confess. Period.’—even a five year old child can understand that…From a Catholic perspective, repentance, faith, and baptism are just as easy to get across in an evangelistic appeal as they are for Protestants; in fact, they are easier since one doesn't have to explain, ‘Okay, repentance and faith are necessary, but baptism isn't, but it's still really important, and so you need to do it, okay?’ On the Catholic view, the message of the elements we have to preach is much simpler: Repent, believe, and in the saving waters, receive the righteousness of God.”38

All Scripture quotations taken from the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition.


[1] Luke 18:17 - “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” ^
[2] For various reasons, which I will not get into because of the nature of this writing, the local parishes I was involved in did a pretty bad job in passing along the teachings of Christ’s Church to us sheep in the aftermath of some of the changes in the Church after the Second Vatican Council. (Many of these changes were illicit and against the teachings of the Council itself.) Even though this is a legitimate reason for my bad formation, I must take responsibility for the fact that I just did not care to know what the truth was as I got older. ^
[3] Luke 10:27 - And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (See also Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8) ^
[4] 1 Kings 19:11-12 - And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. ^
[5] She was my uncle’s ex-wife and the man was her new husband. ^
[6] Of course they meant well and because of their acts of kindness I was right where God desired me to be. ^
[7] Matthew 28:19-20 - “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” ^
[8] See the rest of the New Testament after the Gospels, especially the Acts of the Apostles. ^
[9] Matthew 16:18 - “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” ^
[10] I do not think I was ever present at one where there was an altar, so I am not sure why the moniker is still used. ^
[11] Matthew 10:16 - “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” ^
[12] Acts 17:10-11 - The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe’a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni’ca, for they received the word will all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. ^
[13] Don’t ask. ^
[14] 1 John 3:22 - and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. ^
[15] Remember we crazy Catholics are always making the sign of the cross which among other things professes our faith in the Blessed Trinity. ^
[16] Sola-Scriptura is the unbiblical idea that Scripture is the only infallible source of Christian doctrine. ^
[17] There many other reasons why I did abandon sola-Scriptura, but this episode opened my eyes to the flaws inherent to its application in the life of a Christian. It was only later through further study that I realized that it was an illogical and unbiblical doctrine. ^
[18] While I was off slinging verses, she was worried about the salvation of souls - I love my wife. ^
[19] As my cousin has since wryly pointed out, ignoring our Lord’s injunction to admonish the sinner first by confronting him alone, then with the support of one or two others, and then to bring it to the Church. My witty reply being that none of the three of us, back then, believed in the Church per se. Matthew 18:15-17 - “If Your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” ^
[20] Why the pastor agreed with my cousin’s conclusions, but thought he should not teach it, I have no idea. ^
[21] Where this, ‘if it is not clear to you, you do not have to believe it’ theology is found in Scripture is still unclear to me. ^
[22] This was the church her old youth pastor was now involved in. The Presbyterian Church in America ( ^
[23] John 17:20-21 - “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” ^
[24] Catholic apologetics are arguments in defense of the Catholic faith. ^
[25] In the back of my mind I was thinking that I should not join myself to a church that was not Christ’s Church and at this point it did not seem like that was to be found in the PCA. ^
[26] John 17:20-21 - “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” ^
[27] Matthew 28:20 - “[T]eaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” ^
[28] Colossians 1:24 - Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church[…] ^
[29] 2 Timothy 2:2 - and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ^
[30] Hebrews 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. ^
[31] The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. ^
[32] Or I guess it would be more precise to say that I always knew that, but it had taken me a long time to admit it. Matthew 16:17-19 - And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” ^
[33] John 20:23 - “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” / James 5:14-15 - Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil In the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. / Matthew 16:19 - “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” / Matthew 18:18 - “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” ^
[34] 2 Timothy 2:13 - if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself. ^
[35] Romans 5:12 – “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” ^
[36] Romans 8:28 – “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” ^
[37] Leviticus 11:44 - “For I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” / Matthew 5:16 - “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” ^
[38] Righteousness and Merit, Jimmy Akin ( ^

9 comment(s):

Tracy said...

Wow Todd, awesome! I had heard this before in pieces over the years but it is exciting to see this written out. I can really see God pulling you along. I know this will be a blessing to all who read it.

Paulette Harris said...

This is an older post and I pray someone will read it in it's fullness. I am 58 years old and experienced much of what my brother in Jesus wrote.
I too, joyfully have returned to the Catholic faith that I was raised in. I am amazed at how faith God and Jesus were in my life until I got my head on straight. My husband goes but not converted yet. So, I continue to pray and hope that he will see what taking off the blinders have exposed. I am praising God and walking in the truth.

Blessings to all and a happy New Year 2009!

Paulette Harris said...

I missed the boat here, please feel free to email me, I'll pray for you if you want it and/or be glad to try to answer your questions. :)

Although, warning....I do not know it all! I do occasionally come across that way though.

Joe said...

Very cool, man. Blessings to you and your wife on your journey.

Maureen said...

WOw! Thanks for sharing your story. I was at my computer getting ready to write a note of prayer for the students at our school who are about to make their First Holy Communion. I was reflecting on how special a day it was for my son 7 years ago. He is a "teenager" now and has/is turning away from his Catholic Faith. I will continue to pray for him and remind him that God has not forgotten him or turned away from his sheep and that he will always be welcomed home.

George @ Convert Journal said...

Todd, I have included you in my "Convert Stories" listing ( Please let me know if you would like any changes to your entry and consider adding the "badge". Thanks.

expat's world said...

i was inspired by your sharing and it strengthened the more my Catholic faith!

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